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PS on the spot over expiry of life-saving drugs

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PS on the spot over expiry of life-saving drugs by Kenyans247(1): Wed 30, December, 2020 06:03pm
What you need to know:
The development had been hushed until it was exposed by the Nation on Monday.
The daily obtained correspondence between State agencies on the destruction.
Labour Principal Secretary Peter Tum on Tuesday said he is not to blame for the expiry of a six-tonne consignment of vaccines.

It was during Mr Tum’s time as Health PS in 2017 that the 6.1 tonnes of pentavalent vaccine – a drug meant to protect mothers and children against five potentially deadly diseases – was donated to Kenya.

The vaccine had a shelf life of a year. It expired in 2018 due to red tape in clearance at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

The development had been hushed until it was exposed by the Nation on Monday.

The daily obtained correspondence between State agencies on the destruction.

JKIA Swiss Port Storage wanted the bad drugs removed from its warehouses to free space.

Highly placed sources at Afya House told the Nation yesterday that Mr Tum failed to act even after being alerted about the consignment through memos on three occasions.


No recollection
When the Nation asked Mr Tum if he was aware of the vaccines, he initially said he could not remember anything.

He then said that as the PS, he asked technocrats at the ministry to handle the clearance of the cargo.

“I left the Ministry of Health a long time ago and I can’t remember the consignment. It is a lie when anyone says I am to blame for what happened. My work as the PS was to act and let the technocrats handle practical issues,” Mr Tum said.

“Could you kindly call Dr Collins Tabu for more information?”

Dr Tabu is the head of the Immunisation Programme at the Ministry of Health.

However, calls and text messages to him went unanswered.

The sources said Signod Company was contracted by the Ministry to clear the vaccine from Swiss Port, who had shipped in the consignment.

However, the ministry failed to pay Signod. It meant the goods could not be cleared.

Mr Tum was to spearhead the clearance and payment to Signod and Swiss Port.

Because the vaccine expired in 2018 and are yet to be cleared at the warehouse, Swiss Port demanded its removal.

For the destruction to take place, the Ministry of Health has to be informed.

It then gives the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) a go-ahead to destroy them.

The board must supervise the destruction of the drugs as it can be a public health risk if not properly done.

Many emails to the Ministry of Health from the board and Swiss Port seeking approval to destroy the expired vaccine have gone unanswered.

Responsibility matter
The ministry says it is not its responsibility to allow the destruction of the vaccines, insisting it is the work of Signod.

Had the drug been cleared, more people would have been immunised against haemophilus influenza type B (the bacteria that causes meningitis, pneumonia and otitis media – ear infection), diptheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B, tetanus and other ailments.
Pentavalent, also known as Five-in-One, is a combination of five vaccines.

The ministry has since cut links with the private firms, contracting Unicef to handle vaccines instead.


The PPB says the vaccine was cleared and given a clean bill of health in 2017.

“We even waived the fees after being notified that the consignment was being held due to lack of payment,” PPB Drug Crime and Investigation chief Dennis Otieno said.

He said in his letter to the ministry that the vaccine should be destroyed quickly, lest it is relabelled and sent to the market.

“We have to be careful on how we handle the consignment. Drugs are likely to be fatal once they expire,” Dr Otieno said.

Kebs' side
Kenya Bureau of Statistics head Bernard Njiraini said the agency was not aware of the consignment, adding that pharmaceuticals are handled by the PPB.

“We are not to blame for what happened,” Mr Njiraini said.

According to a confidential letter to Health Director-General Patrick Amoth by PPB late last month, Swiss Port wanted the expired vaccine removed.

“The management of Swissport is requesting for products to be cleared and disposed of since they are occupying valuable space with no commitment of action by the consignee,” the letter says.

The letter adds PPB has been notified of the expired vaccine in the storage room

The board requested the Ministry of Health to clear and organise the disposal of th expired vaccine.

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